Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Mind Runners and The Demon Rises
This January, Big Finish released volume one of series seven of The Fourth Doctor Adventures reuniting Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor with Louise Jameson's Leela. The box set moved away from monthly releases of old, instead releasing four stories at one.
We've already covered the first story, The Sons Of Kaldor and The Crowmarsh Experiment. This time, we're covering the final two-part stories that make up this set; The Mind Runners and The Demon Rises.
The third and fourth stories in the seventh series range, they're available to download exclusively on the Big Finish website as well as part of the larger 7A Series 07 Volume 1 box set here , the latter of which is available for general release on the 28th February.
Both stories have been written by John Dorney and directed by Nicholas Briggs. Here are the synopses for both stories...
The Mind Runners
It used to be fun, Mind Running. Hopping into the heads of total strangers to see what they saw, feel what they felt. But one by one the Mind Runners are dying in a wave of suicides. And no-one on the planet Chaldera knows why.
The Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive in the city that covers all of this dying world as it prepares to evacuate its people, and they immediately find themselves involved in a mystery. Who or what is responsible for the wave of death? Is it the motorised cult known as the Digitals? The enigmatic Mr Shift?
Or did all the victims attempt to run the Night Mind, the demonic consciousness of legend that is so twisted and evil that it drives mad all who touch it?
The TARDIS crew are about to find out.
The Demon Rises
A killer has been uncovered, but the mystery is far from solved. The Doctor, Leela, K9 and their friends are on the run, pursued from all sides. All the clues point to one place - but getting there alive may prove impossible.
Something horrific is happening on Chaldera… and it has been happening for longer than anyone could possibly have realised. Now every life on the planet is at stake. Bar one.
The dark secret at the heart of this world is about to be revealed.
The final two stories that make up volume one of The Fourth Doctor Adventures series seven are an interesting mix of cool sci-fi ideas not out of place on a show like Black Mirror, mixed with an intriguing mystery, politics and murder and evil villains at the heart of a crumbling society. John Dorney packs a lot into this story, but by making it a two-parter, it is also given room to breathe.
As such, much of The Mind Runners is slower in pace to previous installments The Sons of Kaldor and The Crowmarsh Experiment, with the pay off coming much later in the concluding The Demon Rises. It's intriguing rather than exciting with a very cool - and disturbing - concept; people hitching a joyride in the mind of others, each new experience offering a random character journey. In the current climate where consent and violation are hugely prevalent, Dorney's tale certainly touches a nerve; it's definitely more on the disturbing end of the scale.
And yet, he makes the mind runners the relateable protagonists of this tale. Sarah Lark's Jacinta and Alex Wyndham's Raph become the Doctor and Leela's allies throughout both parts, victims themselves as they are hunted by an unseen force murdering their fellow mind runners. But in The Mind Runners, it is Josette Simon's officer Taraneh that stands out; the gruff no nonsense woman trying to police the murder of a Mind Runner and working with Leela as the investigation deepens. It's what makes her murder at the end of the two-part opening all the more shocking, as the vile, shapeshifting Shift (Andy Secombe) throws her out of the window.
And what a nasty character he is, a sarcastic, psychopathic killer for hire; but his alliance with Justin Avoth's Cain that is only the tip of a much darker tale. In a clever twist, The Demon Rises turns the tables as the President of Chaldera is revealed to be covering up a much more sinister scheme and the heart of the city that is physically consuming its populace, made flesh by the very place they inhabit.
The cliffhanger and the end of part one as the Doctor and Leela are literally devoured by the sentient rocket is one of the most horrifying moments I have experienced in Doctor Who - audio or otherwise, something that is repeated in the brutal moment the city starts consuming the screaming people in the streets. The bone crunching, rippling effect as people are eaten was a great effect, the power of audio making it more effective than anything that would have worked on screen.
If The Mind Runners feels a little slow, then the pace of The Demon Rises more than makes up for it. There is a great, unravelling mystery and the presence of the real sentient darkness and the twist as Shift is devoured and then used to defeat the threat is a satisfying pay off. Plus the hint that New York was more than just a city was amusing indeed.
This was a satisfying tale; not as fun and a little more cerebral than the first two stories, but entertaining nonetheless and capped off what has been a strong set of stories to kick off The Fourth Doctor Adventures series seven.
The usual high standard of behind the scenes interviews accompany both stories; there is huge enthusiasm for the tale, from John Dorney and Nicholas Briggs' discussion of the concept and Louise Jameson's delight at the script. The influence of cyberpunk in the Blade Runner noir-esque mind running concept is something explored in depth.
Tom Baker meanwhile, remains as entertaining in his own persona as that of the Doctor and I particularly enjoyed his discussions and interactions in his long-standing relationship with Dorney.